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New York City Fast Food Workers Gain Job Security Under New Laws

Fast Food WorkersSome people employed in New York State may be unaware of their status as at-will employees until they come face to face with the term at the end of their employment.  Under the doctrine of at-will employment, employers can choose to terminate employees for any reason, without a need to justify the employment decision, provided the termination does not violate legal prohibitions against discrimination or retaliation.  The result of this doctrine is that many employees work knowing that their employment is tenuous, and subject to the whims of their employers, regardless of the quality of their work.  Indeed, absent union membership or, even more rare, a contract for employment, it is more likely than not that your employment, whether as an hourly laborer or a salaried professional, is at-will.

New York City has taken a step toward providing a degree of security to fast food workers for restaurants with at least 30 locations nationwide, who have traditionally been considered at-will employees like so many others.  In December 2020, the City Council passed a pair of bills that pertain to the rights of fast-food workers aimed at providing stability and job protection for a class of workers that found themselves bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The first bill, Int. 1396-A, sponsored by Council Member Adrienne Adams, prohibits fast-food employers from terminating or substantially reducing the hours of employees without bona fide economic reasons.  Further, the bill requires that such layoffs be made based on inverse seniority, and that the positions be offered to the terminated employees should they become available again, before newly available shifts are offered to other employees or new hires.  In addition, the bill provides a framework for arbitration of disputes between fast-food employers and employees.

The second bill, Int. 1415-a, sponsored by New York City Council Member Brad Lander, prohibits employers from terminating an employee or substantially reducing an employee’s hours without “just cause.”  The bill defines “just cause” as “the fast food employee’s failure to satisfactorily perform job duties or misconduct that is demonstrably and materially harmful to the fast food employer’s legitimate business interests.”  In determining whether just cause exists, the fact finder is instructed to consider whether the employee knew or should have known of the employer’s policy, rule or practice that serves as the basis for discipline or discharge, whether the employer provided adequate training, whether the rule was reasonable and applied consistently, whether a fair investigation was conducted by the employer, whether the employee violated the rule, and any other relevant factors.  The bill is silent as to termination for economic reasons, and whether adherence to the terms of Int. 1396-A may still constitute a violation of this bill.  Under this bill, employers will also be required to provide a written reason for their termination.  Just cause requires that an employer demonstrate the employee either engaged in misconduct or was unable to perform their job duties.

Both bills were approved by the City Council in December 2020, and signed by Mayor DeBlasio on January 5, 2020, but will not take effect for 180 days.  These bills provide a new framework of protection for workers in an industry with little to no job protection traditionally.

If you believe your employer has violated your rights, or you have been wrongfully terminated, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. immediately to schedule a consultation through one of our websites,, or any of our phone numbers: (516) 248–5550, (516) ABOGADO, or (212) 679–5000.


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